By now you’ve heard about Dubuque losing forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) for the rest of the Clark Cup Playoffs with a fractured jaw.
So what does all this mean? Well, that’s where we went out and found an expert. That just happens to be Jim Leitner, who is the sports editor of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and is the beat writer for the team.
Jim was gracious to give us a few minutes of his time to ask him about what Girgensons’ injury means going forward for the Fighting Saints.
Here’s our Q-and-A session with Jim:
Q: Take us to the play when he hurt his jaw. Was it apparent then something happened or did he not really show it until later in the game?
A: The hit happened near the penalty box across from the Saints’ bench. Zemgus got up and skated gingerly across the ice to the bench, where the trainers checked him out. They went back to the dressing room for a few minutes, but he only missed a few shifts. He played most of the second period, too, but he did not play in the third. He actually assisted on a goal after the injury. It was typical Zemgus, trying to make something happen. He got a shot on goal while being knocked to his knees, and Jono Davis slammed home the rebound.
Q: What did he look like after the game? How did he feel after the game? Could he even talk?
A: Didn’t see him.
Q: People think he’s out and feel their chances may be out the door. Give us three reasons why they’ll win the Clark Cup or give us three reasons why they won’t?
A: The Fighting Saints are playing exceptionally well right now, probably the best hockey they’ve played all year. Zemgus was a big part of that. They were a little inconsistent for most of the second half, but they really turned on the jets in the final three weeks or so of the season. They have a great group of veterans who know what it takes to win playoff hockey games, and the younger guys have adapted well to the intensity of the postseason.
Green Bay has been the favorite to win the Clark Cup since Christmastime. The Gamblers haven’t lost back-to-back games the entire season, which has to be a first in the Tier I era of the USHL. No matter how well any other team in the league is playing, Green Bay is still the favorite.
Q: Who do you think are the players the Fighting Saints will need (don’t say John Gaudreau) will need to rely upon to repeat as Clark Cup champions?
A: When the Fighting Saints are at their best, it’s really hard to single out one or two players who stand out. Tyler Amburgey, Tyler Lundey, T.J. Moor, Matt Morris and Shane Sooth were all integral parts of the Clark Cup championship team last year, and they set the tone in the first playoff game while the newer guys got their feet wet. By the middle of the first playoff game Monday night, it seemed like all 20 guys were in sync.
Q: How much does his injury change or maybe even not change their playoff hopes?
A: Zemgus was absolutely dominant the last few weeks of the season and in the game Monday night against Team USA. During last year’s run to the Clark Cup, it seemed like a different guy stepped up every game. This team is starting to develop that same feel to it. No question, it’s a big loss for Dubuque. But, if you look at the teams who have won the Clark Cup over the years, they’ve done it with balance. The team that wins the Clark Cup this year will be the same.
Q: Finally, you’ve seen him more than anyone. How would you describe him when he plays a game and way from the ice whether be during interviews or other off-ice encounters?
A: Zemgus is the most-competitive, most-driven and toughest athlete I’ve had the opportunity to cover in any sport in the 24 years I’ve been here at the Telegraph Herald. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him take a shift off in a game, and he’s as competitive in his own end as he is in the offensive zone. I love the way he hustles back on defense when the play is going the other way. Off the ice, he’s a private person, but once you get to know him, he’s really funny and outgoing. When I first interviewed him two years ago, I got the impression I was talking to a 30-year-old man, not a 16-year-old kid. We’re going to miss him here in Dubuque, but it’ll be fun watching him on TV.